Exposure Limits For Working In The Cold

Are There Exposure Limits In Cold Environments?

In the US, the legislation from some jurisdictions provides a range of acceptable temperatures for specific circumstances. Working in a cold environment can involve several adverse effects on human performance and health. Workers suffering from exposure to the cold can experience thermal discomfort, increased strain, decreased performance, and cold-related diseases and injuries. Cold also can modify or aggravate the risk of common hazards and increase the risk of cold-associated injuries. Wearing top rated cooling towels can help insulate you from some of the cold.

The Body’s Response

The body tries to maintain an internal (core) temperature of around 37°C (98.6°F). This is done by reducing heat loss and increasing heat production. Under cold conditions, blood vessels in the skin, arms, and legs constrict, decreasing blood flow to the extremities. This minimizes the cooling of the blood and keeps critical internal organs warm. At very low temperatures, however, reducing blood flow to the extremities can result in lower skin temperature and a higher risk of frostbite

Where there are no maximum/minimum exposure limits for cold working environments, there are guidelines that can be used to conduct work/task assessments, create safe work plans, and monitor conditions to protect the health and safety of workers who may be exposed to cold temperatures. Where there are differences between the recommendations made by various organizations (and where there are no established limits or guidelines from your jurisdiction), employers are encouraged to choose a system that best provides protection for their workforce.

Exposure Guidelines

For example, the ACGIH suggests a work-warming regimen when work is done continuously in the cold when the wind chill temperature is -7°C (19.4°F), heated warming shelters (tents, cabins, rest rooms, etc) should be made available nearby. Workers should be encouraged to use these shelters, depending on the severity of the exposure.  If signs of cold stress are noticed, return to the shelter immediately. For work at or below -12°C (10.4°F), work should include:

  • constant observation (supervisor or buddy system),
  • adjusting the pace or rate of work so that it is not too high and cause heavy sweating that will result in wet clothing
  • time for new employees to become accustomed to the conditions
  • adjusted to include the weight and bulkiness of the clothing when estimating work performance and weights to be lifted by the worker
  • arranged in such a way that sitting and standing for long periods is minimized
  • instructions in safe work practices, re-warming procedures, proper clothing practices, proper eating and drinking habits, recognition of cold stress/frostbite, and signs and symptoms of hypothermia or excessive cooling of the body (including when shivering does not occur)

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